Equality and diversity in the legal profession

In this issue issue, we take a closer look at equality and diversity in the legal profession. But why are equality and diversity important issues? Is it not more important to focus on how competent legal professionals are and what kind of service they deliver? These questions are related. Equality and diversity in any profession allow to reflect the diversity of the society we live and work in and to take into account different aspirations, ways to solve problems or various challenges faced by different groups in our societies. For solicitors, it is important to have an awareness of the diversity of interests they represent, breadth of circumstances in which these interests (or problems) arise or potentially unmet needs for legal services.

So how representative is the legal profession? In recent years, the share of women solicitors, as well as solicitors from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, has increased substantially (see for example, the 2012 report from the Legal Services Board). However, the opportunities for progression for young lawyers did not seem to have been distributed equally. Women are still less likely to become a partner in a law firm and there are persisting pay gaps between men and women.

In England and Wales, some 25 per cent of judges are female. If one looks at the stratified data, then it emerges that there is only one female Justice in the Supreme Court and that only 21 out of 108 High Court judges are female. Moreover, looking at the entry data, only 43 per cent of recommended candidates are women. Women also make up 56 per cent of in-house solicitors (compared to 48 per cent among all solicitors). However, when looking at the type of practice, the situation is slightly different. Women make up less than 30 per cent of the workforce of legal consultancies but more than 60 per cent of local government bodies and advice centres.

A majority of the judicial profession seems to be recruited from a limited section of the society. 71 per cent of senior British judges attended independent schools compared to 7 per cent of the population as a whole. Moreover, 75 per cent of senior British judges attended Oxbridge compared to less than 1 per cent of the population as a whole.

Our 'In Focus' section will ask questions about the obstacles faced in the profession and the ways forward. We are proud to feature Cecile Kyenge MEP and Jonathan Cooper OBE as our external contributors. We also feature articles on several of the Law Societies' diversity initiatives.

In focus: Member States disagree on gender equality proposals

18 August 2016

A report from the Council’s conclusions on gender equality in decision-making, including some encouraging but non-binding policies.

In focus: Increasing Social Mobility: Blind Recruitment

18 August 2016

Outlining the Law Society of England and Wales’ mentoring programme, helping to address equality and diversity obstacles in the legal profession.

In focus: Solicitors for social mobility - Law Society’s Ambassadors Project and Diversity Access Scheme

18 August 2016

A summary of the Law Society of England and Wales’ Diversity Access Scheme and its Ambassadors Project.

In focus: Equality and diversity in the Scottish legal profession

10 August 2016

A summary of the Law Society of Scotland’s equality and diversity initiatives.

In focus: equal opportunities for law students – ELSA and Break Into Law

10 August 2016

The gap between legal studies and professional life is sometimes wide, making it challenging for law students to gain employability skills and knowledge on their career opportunities. A way to overcome this challenge is to get involved in The European Law Students’ Association (ELSA) and take part in activities organised jointly with DLA Piper, a global law firm. 

All equality and diversity in the legal profession features